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Rudolf Agricola School for Sustainable Development
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Sustainable Society Symposium: 'Emerging societal challenges, towards a shared agenda'

Sustainable Society Symposium

The second Sustainable Society Symposium 'Emerging societal challenges, towards a shared agenda' will take place on Thursday 28 October 2021. The afternoon will kick off with a keynote lecture of Ambassador Marcel Beukeboo m. Marcel is the Dutch Permanent Representative at the United Nations in Rome and will talk about food and the future of food production. Next, prof. dr. Rafael Wittek, theoretical sociologist at the UG, will discuss societal challenges as a policy problem. Finally, participants will break out in different research group sessions: (1) Democracy & Governance, (2) Sustainable Landscapes, (3) Illicit Trade and (4) Disaster Resilience. Additional information can be found below.

When: Thursday 28 October 2021, 13:30-17:00 hrs
Where: Forum Groningen


  • 13.15 Walk-in with coffee & tea
  • 13.30 Introduction Sustainable Society,
    Dr. Kees van Veen, Academic Director Sustainable Society
  • 13.45 Keynote lectures incl. Q&A

    The future of food and food production
    Ambassador Marcel Beukeboom, Dutch Permanent Representative at the United Nations in Rome

    Societal challenges as a policy problem
    Prof. dr. Rafael Wittek, theoretical sociologist at the University of Groningen
  • 14.45 Break
  • 15.00 Research group sessions

    Democracy & Governance
    Disaster Resilience
    Illicit Trade
    Sustainable Landscapes
  • 16.45 Wrap up
    Dr. Kees van Veen, Academic Director Sustainable Society
  • 17.00 Network drinks

Keynote lectures

Keynote 1: Marcel Beukeboom
The future of food and food production

With a growing population and increasing pressure on the planetary boundaries, humanity faces serious challenges related to the production and consumption of food. These challenges relate to the necessary volumes and nutrition levels, the quality and distribution of food over populations, and the increasingly problematic side-effects of different food production systems. As a leading global institution, the FAO is at the front of the newest developments. And where these global debates move, new research questions emerge.

About Marcel Beukeboom

Ambassador Marcel Beukeboom is the Dutch Permanent Representative at the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome. The Rome-based UN agencies deal with food, agriculture and nutrition and are crucial in fighting global hunger and poverty. Prior to this he served as Climate Envoy for the Netherlands, working on the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, both internationally and at home. Before his diplomatic career – that also took him from Pretoria to Washington, Marcel studied International Relations in Groningen. As one of the founding members of the political party Student & Stad, he served in the City Council of Groningen.

Keynote 2: Raphael Wittek
Societal Challenges as a Policy Problem

Policies are supposed to prevent and mitigate societal challenges. Unfortunately, rather than solving social problems, many institutional designs make them worse or even trigger their very emergence. What does it take for policies to avoid such governance traps? In this keynote presentation, Rafael Wittek presents recent attempts to unravel the mechanisms that make or break the institutions that are needed to sustain societal resilience.

About Rafael Wittek

Rafael Wittek is a theoretical sociologist. His research interests are in the fields of cooperation science, organization studies, economic sociology and social network research. Wittek holds a PhD (cum laude) in Behavioural and Social Sciences (University of Groningen, 1999), and an M.A. (cum laude) in Sociology and Cultural Anthropology (University of Tübingen, 1991). Since 2001, he is a full professor of Theoretical Sociology at the Department of Sociology (University of Groningen), which he chaired until 2014. He held teaching appointments at Cornell University (U.S.A.), the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich (Switzerland), the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany), and the Università della Svizzera Italiana (Lugano, Switzerland).

Research Group Sessions

After the keynote lectures, participants will break out into different research group sessions. When reserving your ticket you will get the possibility to choose out of four research group sessions:

(1) The Democracy & Governance Research Group session

The Democracy & Governance (D&G) Research Group is delighted to invite colleagues to our Symposium session. In this session, a presentation of our core teaching and research activities will be presented, together with our visions for the research group in the short, medium and long-term. D&G members will give brief presentations on their research projects and interests. This will be followed by a "meet and greet" session in which participants will be given the opportunity to build connections which, we hope, will foster cooperation across the University and beyond.

Participants who would like to give a short (3-5 minutes) research presentation are warmly invited to contact the D&G Research Group coordinator, dr. Benjamin Leruth: b.j.j.leruth

(2) The Disaster Resilience session

The impacts of disasters, and in many cases their likelihood, are amplified by ongoing global trends, like rapid urbanization, intensified development in hazardous areas, increased population movements, climate change and strong reliance on technologies, among others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear how difficult it is to manage a complex system of interconnected and dynamic components (transportation, healthcare, economy, education), within and across countries. Risk perception, trust in institutions, preparedness and reliability of communities, organizations and politics are only some of the factors that make disaster resilience a complex issue that requires moving from a reactive approach to risk management to a proactive one based on the concepts of “living with uncertainty” and “envisioning the future”.

The aim of this session is to bring together UG researchers working on disaster resilience or with an interest in the topic and to initiate a conversation about the many aspects of disaster resilience and their interconnections. Inter- and trans-disciplinary research are necessary to tackle the complex challenges posed by disasters, and we envision this symposium as a way to establish new collaborations and joint initiatives. The symposium will also offer the opportunity to disseminate what the existing group has organized so far.

Participants who would like to give a short (3-5 minutes) research presentation are warmly invited to contact the Disaster Resilience Group Research Group coordinator, Francesca Giardini: f.giardini

(3) The Illicit Trade Research Group session

The Illicit Trade Group (ITG) fosters interdisciplinary research on governance and representation of the dark side of globalization. During the symposium, the ITG Group will take the opportunity to showcase the expertise and the ongoing research of colleagues already affiliated with the group and discuss the medium term objectives regarding research, education and valorization activities of the group. In line with the spirit of the group, we aim to foster long-lasting collaborations across disciplines by exploring potential synergies among the participants of the symposium.

Participants who would like to give a short (3-5 minutes) research presentation are warmly invited to contact the Illicit Trade Group Research Group coordinator, Francesco Giumelli: f.giumelli

(4) The Sustainable Landscapes Research Group session

In the past two years the Sustainable Landscapes Group has been set up nicely. Together we have gathered a group of 50 committed scholars from the most important disciplines, we have held a series of lunch webinars to sharpen our thoughts about problems and possibilities, we have organized successful summer schools, and have extended our contacts with key stakeholders. It is now time to take the next step: boost joint research activity!

In the coming period, we aim to develop a set of ten multi-disciplinary research proposals, each with 1-4 PhD positions. You will be asked to get together with a small set of other SL fellows and develop a proposal. We will provide you with support from funding officers, visualization, and communication experts. The result, aimed at the spring of 2022, will be a cutting-edge research programme with 10 proposal-team combinations. Subsequently, we will work on realizing the proposed research.

Participants who would like to give a short (3-5 minutes) research presentation are warmly invited to contact the Sustainable Landscapes Research Group coordinator, dr. Frans Sijtsma: f.j.sijtsma

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Last modified:04 July 2023 4.43 p.m.
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